Aaron Swartz: Blame MIT and USAO

I wrote this four years ago, pointing out that the Swartz prosecution was political in nature. MIT and the US Attorney’s Office in Boston are responsible for his death. After his suicide, the Boston USAO lied, claiming that they had offered him a six-month plea bargain. That was and is a lie:

The Federal Sentencing Guidelines provide a base sentence of 57-71 months in prison in this case, followed by 2 or 3 years of supervised release and no computer use during this time. I have not seen a report where the prosecution offered Swartz a six-month cap in exchange for a plea. I have seen a report that the prosecution insisted on what is called an open plea to the entire indictment. This is not a plea bargain at all.

My only conclusion from all of this is that this case was and is a political case and so was handled differently from run of the mill criminal matters. The government no doubt wanted to make an example of Swartz and his efforts in opening up PACER played into this. The Government is afraid of people like Swartz, Assange and Anonymous (and perhaps even Kim Dotcom–they are viewed essentially as one entity.

Society’s reaction to crime ebbs and flows. In medieval England, the sole penalty for felony was death. The idea was that the punishment was so horrible that no one would commit a felony. This obviously did not work. The United States is similarly using draconian legislation to modify the behavior of people interacting through computers. This effort will fail. The greatest blow to people pirating music was iTunes offering songs for less than a dollar and not any draconian legislation.

The Swartz case raises so many issues. Perhaps only a Constitutional Convention could address all of them (keep in mind that the federalization of crime took place under Hoover; at the founding of the Republic there were only three federal crimes).